Fast-fashion retailer Forever21 caters to Gen Z shoppers, many of whom are literally sleeping with their smartphones. So it’s hardly surprising that texting is a major focus of the brand’s Black Friday marketing plans.
But texting a discount code is no longer a surefire path to conversion. To better attract customer attention, Forever21 is changing up its texting strategy — using a platform that tracks store behavior as well as online habits to help tailor messages. That might look like letting shoppers know when an item they’ve viewed is low in stock, or suggesting they check out a newly launched collection.
“We can do a lot more to personalize the messaging that’s coming, and make sure that we’re doing a better job of putting the right messages in front of the right customers at the right time,“ said Jacob Hawkins, Forever21’s chief marketing, digital and omni officer.
Brands texts have become a fixture of most people’s inboxes; SimpleText found that 74% of shoppers are signed up for texts from a business. But as the channel has become commonplace, brands run the risk of annoying customers with too many messages or causing the same message fatigue that plagues email. In turn, some brands are upping their SMS game for the busy holiday shopping to provide more dynamic and engaging messages that can hold a shopper’s attention. That includes personalized recommendations, stock updates and early deals for loyal shoppers. Some are also finding ways to spice up the look of the messages themselves by including more photos and videos.
Hawkins said Forever21 will begin rolling out its holiday deals after Halloween, ramping up through Black Friday into Christmas. VIP shoppers will also get early access to Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals via text. Based on its customer data platform, shoppers will receive different frequencies of messages based on their level of engagement with the brand, whether that’s one text a week, or twice a day.
“When you’re sending a message to the screen of someone’s phone, you’ve got to get the quality right,” Hawkins said. “The quality should be great, the frequency cannot be too little and it can’t be too much. You’ve got to watch and align along the way.”
Going beyond discounts
Amit Jhawar, CEO of texting platform Attentive, said personalized texts are poised to play a bigger role in direct marketing because of the increased ability to harness customer data. Tools that can link a customer’s buying habits and browsing patterns have gotten better at predicting what people want to look at, due in part to advances in AI that can help identify patterns and segment audiences.
Key elements of personalization include the copy of the message, time of day, repeat purchase suggestions or coordinating elements, like a duffel bag that attaches to a suitcase. Other messages may be more value-focused, like noting that a product lasts through 50 washes.
“If they’re an audiophile and they get the nicest set of headphones you have, you can start educating them in what environments they work best in, or how to get the best sound on the wireless mic,” Jhawar said. “These are pieces that are going unused and missed in marketing for SMS.”
This year, about 94% of Attentive customers will send out Black Friday and Cyber Monday messaging, with the peak period hitting on the Friday before Thanksgiving. That includes Uncommon Goods, an online store for independent artists and brands that’s been using SMS for customer notifications since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The strategy has evolved to become more personalized over the years, and CMO Brian Hashemi said SMS now sees the highest growth out of any other marketing channel.
While the brand typically doesn’t offer any Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales, it uses customer profile information to inform a more conversational and personalized recommendation strategy. SMS is also the highest growth channel out of its marketing efforts. One message might be linking to a list of gifts under $50, another may focus on Small Business Saturday and highlight the store’s connection to independent makers. Hashemi said other messages might include updates on restocked items, or giving recommendations for certain groups, like gifts for dads.
“We’re really focused on improving the relevance of what we’re sending, and the products to customers,” he said. “It’s always a challenge to figure out what messaging will break through the noise.”
One strategy that’s proven most effective is trigger messages, sent after someone looks at a product page. These messages get 17 times higher responses compared to normal messages, according to Attentive data. And though it’s just 4% of all text communication, trigger messages drive 41% of Uncommon Goods’ SMS revenue.
Katherine Cabe, senior director of retention marketing at AS Beauty, which houses multiple beauty brands including Laura Geller, said that the SMS channel was relatively nascent this time last year. But it’s grown over the past year, with roughly 25% of retention revenue coming from text, Cabe said.
To prepare for the holiday season, Laura Geller is already priming its SMS subscribers with engagement tactics, like surveys to understand what they’re shopping for. It’s also putting out a “shade finder” quiz so customers will know what colors they need to order when a deal comes along, Cabe said.
As for the deals themselves, “you want to kick them off early so you’re not the last people to start,” Cabe said. “But you also know by doing that you are going to be pulling revenue forward. So part of it is, how do you keep a customer engaged for basically a whole month of sales?”
Laura Geller plans to offer daily deals to keep customers coming up, as well as gifts with purchases. SMS audiences will also get “first dibs” on limited edition items, and early notifications when stock is dropping. These messages will also be different than what a customer receives via email, Cabe said.
“It’s the most personal way we have to contact someone, so we’re focused on making it a special experience,” Cabe said.
At Forever21, Hawkins said plans to use more photos, video and animation embedded into text messages, such as a pair of earrings they recently viewed that’s now low in stock.
“it’s more expensive, but it actually allows us to have a richer message for the customer to see and engage them more,” Hawkins said. “That’s that’s going to be an important part of what we’re doing this year as well.”